People who have alpha-1 antitrypsin (AAT) deficiency don't always develop serious lung or liver diseases. This means that you can have AAT deficiency and not even know it.
If you already know you have AAT deficiency, you probably also have a related lung or liver disease. Ongoing medical care and lifestyle changes can help you manage your health.
Ongoing Medical Care
If you have AAT deficiency, you'll need ongoing medical care. Talk with your doctor about how often you should schedule medical visits.
Take all of your medicines as prescribed, and follow your treatment plan. Get flu and pneumococcal vaccines to protect you from illnesses that may worsen your condition. If you have a lung infection, get treatment right away.
You also should get treatment right away for any breathing problems. If treatment includes pulmonary rehabilitation, work with your health care team to learn how to manage your condition and function at your best.
Quit Smoking and Avoid Lung Irritants
If you smoke, quit. If you don't smoke, don't start. Smoking is the leading risk factor for life-threatening lung disease if you have AAT deficiency.
Talk with your doctor about programs and products that can help you quit smoking. If you have trouble quitting smoking on your own, consider joining a support group. Many hospitals, workplaces, and community groups offer classes to help people quit smoking.
For more information about how to quit smoking, go to the Health Topics Smoking and Your Heart article and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute's (NHLBI's) "Your Guide to a Healthy Heart." Although these resources focus on heart health, they include basic information about how to quit smoking.
Also, try to avoid secondhand smoke and other lung irritants, such as dust, fumes, or toxins. Check your living and working spaces for things that may irritate your lungs. Examples include flower and tree pollen, ash, allergens, air pollution, wood burning stoves, paint fumes, and fumes from cleaning products and other household items.
Because AAT deficiency is inherited, your children may have the condition or carry the gene for it. Advise them to avoid smoking and to stay away from places where they might inhale irritants or toxins.
Follow a Healthy Diet
A healthy diet is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. A healthy diet includes a variety of vegetables and fruits. It also includes whole grains, fat-free or low-fat dairy products, and protein foods, such as lean meats, poultry without skin, seafood, processed soy products, nuts, seeds, beans, and peas.
A healthy diet is low in sodium (salt), added sugars, solid fats, and refined grains. Solid fats are saturated fat and trans fatty acids. Refined grains come from processing whole grains, which results in a loss of nutrients (such as dietary fiber).
For more information about following a healthy diet, go to the NHLBI's "Your Guide to Lowering Your Blood Pressure With DASH" and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's ChooseMyPlate.gov Web site. Both resources provide general information about healthy eating.
Also, talk with your doctor about whether it's safe for you to drink alcohol.
Be Physically Active
Try to do physical activity regularly. Talk with your doctor about how much and what types of activity are safe for you.
For more information about physical activity, go to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' "2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans," the Health Topics Physical Activity and Your Heart article, and the NHLBI's "Your Guide to Physical Activity and Your Heart."
These resources provide information about the benefits of physical activity.
Learning how to manage stress, relax, and cope with problems can improve your emotional and physical health. Relaxation techniques—such as meditation, yoga, breathing exercises, and muscle relaxation—can help you cope with stress.
Emotional Issues and Support
Living with AAT deficiency may cause fear, anxiety, depression, and stress. Talk about how you feel with your health care team. Talking to a professional counselor also can help. If you're very depressed, your doctor may recommend medicines or other treatments that can improve your quality of life.
Joining a patient support group may help you adjust to living with AAT deficiency. You can see how other people who have the same symptoms have coped with them. Talk with your doctor about local support groups or check with an area medical center.
Support from family and friends also can help relieve stress and anxiety. Let your loved ones know how you feel and what they can do to help you.